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Schwartz's late-career transition pays dividends

BY Sheena Butler-Young

4/5/2015
PHOTO | Steve Laschever
PHOTO | Steve Laschever
Lisa Schwartz shown with her father, and mentor, Vernon L. Cohen

Who is your mentor and why?


My mentor is my father, Vernon L. Cohen, who was a pillar of integrity and a true Southern gentleman. My dad was the owner of a Big & Tall men’s store in Birmingham, Ala. My dad was also a mentor to my two older brothers who are respected physicians. Dad was a patient teacher, great salesman, loving husband, and father.


My dad passed away in 1996, but the lessons he taught me about how to treat others with dignity and respect have shaped my values and been the foundation for my success in all of my careers.


My first job was working at my dad’s store as a teenager and the lessons learned were invaluable. Every customer mattered to him, and my dad knew most of them by name. Dad offered personal customer service in store and also through special orders, alterations and home deliveries. Learning the importance of personal customer service and of developing strong customer relationships has helped to make me successful in all of my jobs, but especially in my current position at Integrity Merchant Solutions.


Dad worked six days a week while doing paperwork at home every night. Because of my dad, I too have a strong work ethic and a high sense of urgency. My reputation is based on being there for all of my customers whenever they need me.


Dad believed in giving back and was a Rotary Club president and Paul Harris Fellow.


His commitment to community influenced me, and I now volunteer for many organizations, including Easter Seals, CT Children’s Hospital, Hebrew Health Care and The Jordan Porco Foundation.


How do you mentor your staff?


I think it is important to have faith in your team and to be willing to delegate and to let them shine. I also believe strongly in educating and explaining why I am asking someone to do something so that they have a full understanding of how their work fits in the big picture. And it is important to be comfortable surrounding yourself with the best.


What advice could you offer to people thinking about being a mentor?


Go for it! It is very rewarding to see someone you have mentored spread their wings and be successful.

Lisa Schwartz is the go-to credit card processing consultant for St. Francis Hospital, Connecticut Children's Medical Center, Goodwin College and Hartford Stage and generated more than 100 new accounts in 2014 alone.

When Schwartz became a consultant for Glastonbury-based Integrity Merchant Solutions — a firm that specializes in assisting merchants with their credit card processing activities — six years ago, she was transitioning from a 20-year-long career in retail managing multi-million dollar accounts for major department stores.

While switching career paths late in the game might intimidate some, Schwartz said she was confident that she could take the skills she learned at big retail companies like Macy's in Atlanta and G. Fox in Hartford and turn them into a successful career helping businesses save money on credit card processing.

"I came to Integrity knowing nothing and making zero dollars because my position is commission-only," said Schwartz. "But I was able to build a business that is quite rewarding both financially and professionally."

Last year, Schwartz was the second-highest producing sales person at IMS and her clients include large Connecticut hospitals, the Hartford Dental Society, major regional accounting firms and nonprofits like TheaterWorks and Special Olympics of Connecticut.

Before her transition to the credit-processing industry, Schwartz spent five years at Macy's where she earned an accelerated promotion from the company's entry-level executive training program to buyer; she later served as a regional manager of cosmetics responsible for a $63 million territory at G. Fox.

For Schwartz, several principles have driven her career: problem solving with a sense of urgency; building and maintaining a strong team; being a mentor who likes to see others shine; and persistence.

Regarding persistence, Schwartz said she's had to be unrelenting in every position she's held in order to be successful.

"There's a real 'never giving up' approach to my career; I'm like a bull dog — I won't let go," Schwartz said.

Sean McGrail, founder and president of IMS, said it can take anywhere from a day to a year to snag some clients in the credit card processing industry.

"There's a lot of touches and contact before someone ultimately becomes a client," explained McGrail. "Lisa is filled with fire and enthusiasm; she's aggressive in her sales approach in that she doesn't give up."

McGrail said Schwartz's high level of professionalism and strong follow-through are also key contributors to her ability to land and maintain clients.

"I'm nicely persistent," explained Schwartz of her strategy. "I won't hound customers but I will stay in touch."

Even with a heavy workload and a demanding client base, Schwartz said she's made it a priority to create work-life balance. To that end, she said she always carves out time to volunteer with local nonprofits.

Schwartz currently serves on the gala auction committee for three Connecticut charities: Easter Seals Capital Region, an outpatient provider of medical and vocational rehabilitation services; Connecticut Children's Friends, Connecticut Children's Medical Center's volunteer organization; and the Jordan Matthew Porco Memorial Foundation, a Hartford suicide-prevention foundation dedicated to the memory of Jordan Porco who died by suicide in 2011.

Schwartz said her strong relationships in the business community have helped her score items for the charities' silent auctions and she encourages other women in business to use their professional skills, when possible, for charitable causes.

"It's very important for work-life balance that you give back to the community," said Schwartz. "You gain so much by helping those in need and at the same time you can meet so many great women and you can build so many relationships that it ends up helping you unexpectedly."

Schwartz's people skills, according to McGrail, are at the core of her career-long success.

"She cares about her customers," said McGrail. "She backs up what she says and that's why she continues to be successful and get referrals."

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